Evolutionary epidemiology

Acta Biotheoretica 41 (3) (1993)
Abstract
Epidemiology is a science of disease which specifies rates (illness prevalences, incidences, distributions, etc.). Evolution is a science of life which specifies changes (gene frequencies, generations, forms, function, etc.). Evolutionary Epidemiology is a synthesis of these two sciences which combines the empirical power of classical methods in genetical epidemiology with the interpretive capacities of neo-darwinian evolutionary genetics. In particular, prevalence rates of genetical diseases are important data points when reformulated for the purpose of analysis in terms of their evolutionary frequencies. Traits which exceedprevalences beyond the rates of mutation (in Hardy-Weinberg calculations) or evidence unusualrange of phenotypic reaction are of special interest. This is because traits which did not confer advantages in the environment of evolutionary adaptation cannot accede, through natural selection, to anything but low rates of genomic prevalence.Evolutionary epidemiology is, in all of medicine, of particular promise in ongoing efforts to better understand psychopathology. Many complexities of phenotypic adjustment arise when new developmental demands are placed on an old genome. The new and complex biosocial ecology of human mass society now evokes different phenotypes than those in the prehistorical ecology to which the genome is structurally and functionally better adapted. Some of these new phenotypes are darwinian failures. In this paper, the theoretical implications of evolutionary epidemiology are extended and some tentative points of clinical application (particularly to psychiatry) are offered.
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